With the NBA world – and those that write and comment about it - still mourning the passing of Kobe Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter GiGi and seven other passengers that were in Bryant’s helicopter on Sunday morning, writing a gambling column seems more than a little trite.
There’s no real way to spin it otherwise, other than to say that Kobe’s ascension from precocious teenager to global icon is part of the reason that wagering on the NBA became so big that it basically forced the hand of everyone involved to legalize it in the United States. For as much as no one played for the love of the game – and wanted to win – more than Bryant, he also understood the business aspect of the sport as well as anyone since the man he modeled his game (and marketing efforts) after.
So let’s dive into this week’s Stock Up, Stock Down in Kobe’s honor. We’re highlighting team trends based specifically on home or away records against the spread that are either well above or below par. Looking at both recent and season-long trends, it’s amazing that some teams continue to get more (or less) respect than they clearly deserve.
First up is a team that may be in as deep a tailspin as any in the league, and doesn’t seem to be on its way out anytime soon.
(All stats and trends are through Monday’s games)
The Minnesota Timberwolves are coming off of perhaps the worst loss an NBA team has suffered this century, blowing a 27-point fourth quarter lead and a 17-point advantage with 2:49 remaining in regulation
Per Ben Fawkes, according to ESPN Stats and Info, 8,378 teams had been in such a situation since play-by-play data started getting recorded in 1996. The Wolves were the first one to blow such a lead.
This was also the Wolves 10th loss in a row. They failed to cover the spread in nine of those contests, including the last six. They are a team in freefall. With eight of their next 13 games away from home, including road tilts against the Clippers, Raptors, Nuggets, Mavericks and Heat, it would seem that things won’t be getting better anytime soon.
With an overall record against the spread of 17-28-2 – second worst in the NBA, higher than only the Pistons - that assumption would seem to be correct, but it doesn’t even highlight perhaps the most shocking thing about the Timberwolves futility this season.
At the Target Center, Minnesota is 5-18-1 against the spread. That’s a game and a half worse than the next lowest team (the Spurs, who are starting to show signs of turning things around), and a full three games behind the next best team, the Blazers.
The next three home games for the Wolves before they head into the All-Star break are against the Hawks, Clippers and Hornets. Atlanta is a stay away, as the Hawks are the worst road against the spread team in the league with a mark of just 8-16 away from home. Who wins the battle between the barely mobile force and the easily movable object is anyone’s guess. Ditto for Charlotte, who sports a league-worst minus 19.6 net rating over the last two weeks.
But LA is an even 12-12 against the spread and have been playing arguably their best basketball of the season (fifth in both offensive and defensive rating over the last two weeks, according to Cleaning the Glass). Circle their February 8 matchup against the Wolves on your calendars.
The Hawks, for all of their road futility, are actually the second best against the spread team at home in the entire league with a betting mark of 14-9 at State farm Arena.
They’ve covered five of their last six at home, including an outright win over the Clippers and a 152-133 throttling of the Wizards on Sunday night.
Overall, Atlanta is a respectable 6-8 following a 10-game losing streak. With John Collins back from a suspension and a front office that may be trying to upgrade prior to the deadline., they look to be a team on the rise.
Perhaps it’s ironic that the best home against the spread team in the league is the one whose fans famously bailed on them before arguably the greatest shot in NBA history.
(Well, some of them did…)
The Heat are 16-7 ATS at the American Airlines Arena, and following some tough home games against the Celtics and Sixers, they come back from the All-Star break to face patsies Cleveland and Minnesota in Florida. Wager accordingly.
Oklahoma City Thunder
The Thunder – a team virtually no one had making the playoffs before the season started and are currently within shouting distance of the fifth seed in the West – are an astounding 18-5 against the spread away from home this year.
They’ve covered ten straight on the road, and have away dates upcoming against the Kings and Suns, who are two of the nine worst home ATS teams in the NBA. Vegas has been underselling OKC all season long, and they just keep on keepin’ on. No reason to get off the train now.
They’re not quite on par with Oklahoma City (because no one is), but the Mavs are a pretty outstanding 15-5-2 against the spread when they depart the friendly confines of the American Airlines Center.
They just finished a tough three-game road trip against the Blazers, aforementioned Thunder and red hot Jazz and finished a more than respectable 2-0-1. Coming up next, they travel to Houston (which has lost three of their last four at home, both outright and ATS) and Indiana (11-8-3 ATS at home) before going into All-Star weekend with road games against the lowly Wizards and reeling Hornets.
With Blake Griffin on the shelf and Andre Drummond on the trade block, perhaps it’s no surprise that the Pistons have failed to cover six of their last seven games at home, leading to an overall home ATS record of 9-16.
That rough stretch includes two outright home defeats to the Cavs and additional losses to the below-.500 Nets, Grizzlies, Pelicans and Bulls. With upcoming home games against the Raptors and Nuggets, there’s little chance this trend turns around anytime soon.